Steve Messer

The Timebox

Weeknotes S06E01

For a while now, I’ve been saying that I’ll try a new style of weeknoting, but I hadn’t done anything about it. Figured I’d give the Good, Bad, Ugly format a try from Sam’s list of weeknote styles.

This week was a little different; the days blended into each other, there was much thinking done, and the new team are ready to jump into next week.

Good things

There’s good cohesion in the new team, and the new team is staffed with very clever people. I was grateful to Tanya for her guidance earlier in the week, as there was some validation in my product process in knowing that she approaches new projects in a similar fashion.

The team have been helpful in making suggestions where they felt it would be helpful. We’ve been following a slightly bastardised version of design sprints (again) but they have been useful in pulling out stuff from our brains and the libraries of research, development and data at GDS.

People nodded when I explained strategy, vision statements, objectives and outcomes. Bit of a shocker.

It’s also neat that our work is getting in front of people with political capital who seemingly want to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

The new product manager for Search seemed to have everything they needed for picking up the team, too. They’ll no doubt need more as the weeks go by, but this initial success proves it’s good to document as you go; creating a vision deck, a mission brief and OKR slides, and setting milestones, updating those as the team advances, has given them a record of the product strategy to take over.

A final thought: it’s good to be working on web products where the ideal is to hold a user’s attention for only the most necessary amount of time. In a world where the attention economy undermines the human will, we’re being creative to reduce bureaucracy and return your waking moments to you.

Learned things

Timing sessions, giving people breaks and not falling down rabbit holes is key in exploratory work. Though it is a balance: you need to give ample room for thoughts to develop, while also knowing when to turn tangents into cul-de-sacs. Had I not had to attend the all-staff on Monday I likely would have spent that time planning out the week, but maybe I should have put time aside sooner.

Also learned to never book travel for a wedding three days before said wedding. Bit stressful doing it in the evenings after a busy day!

Difficulties

The ‘fluffy’ bits of product management – setting a vision, defining working principles, and generally setting up some constraints – felt hard to lead the team through, as I don’t think it’s particularly enjoyable for many people. However, it’s exactly the sort of exercise that helps set your trajectory in a less-than-clear environment.

I’m grateful to the team for putting up with it and, alongside that, coming up with some good statements and principles. We’ll be able to iterate these over the course of the project but the internal statement we’re resting on, ‘Boring magic’, is undeniably golden. Props to Conor for that one.

Achievements

On Tuesday I set the goal of getting to Friday with a good plan for the following week. It was also imperative that we had some assumptions to test in the coming weeks. Thankfully we made it through, wading through the murkiness of a new problem space inside of four days.

As soon as I left, the Search team passed a big milestone and upgraded Elasticsearch. Huge news! It means they’ll be able to improve the relevance of search results, release features to change users’ behaviour and improve the mobile search UI with full focus now.

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